Friendly, extroverted preschoolers are God's gift to those who wish to "do the work of an evangelist." God certainly gave us an extra helping of that gift in Jim, and I was thanking God for that as I sat in the Chick-Fil-A playground in McKinney, TX, yesterday. Her two preschoolers were alongside mine, trying to survive a throng of vulgar, abrasive nine-year-oldish boys who had summarily and individually assigned to every person, implement, and appliance in the Chick-Fil-A either some label depicting human waste or (apparently a worse fate) the sobriquet "Hannah Montana." When the Mongols came to blows for the umpteenth time, parent-stormtroopers finally arose from their meals, entered the play area, and drug the older children out of the House that Truett Built amidst weeping and wailing.
I decided that her accent was my conversation-starter. With my friendliest face I opened with my best Gomer-Pyle-meets-Inspector-Clouseau rendition of "Êtes-vous française?" She wasn't, although I could have sworn that I heard her muttering French to someone on a cell phone a few minutes earlier. But she wasn't French; she was Albanian. Nonetheless, she was obviously delighted that I was making efforts at a conversation.
"I knew a college student from Albania. My brother-in-law brought him home from Thanksgiving for a couple of years." (There's my hook. He was a Christian, sent here by missionaries. Ask her why she's in the country, tell why he came here, and then straight into the gospel.) "Did you grow up in Albania?"
"How on earth did you wind up in McKinney, Texas?"
"My husband is in school here."
"Oh, really! To study what?"
"He's completing his Th.M. at Dallas Theological Seminary. We're missionaries to…" OK, that part I can't tell you, except to note that her response makes the remainder of the conversation very interesting.
"Well, then, I'm guessing that you're not going to let me get very far in presenting the gospel to you, are you?"
We both chuckled over that, and a delightful conversation ensued. I told her about the Moslems who have come to Christ through our ministry at FBC Farmersville, where they are now, and how much I worry about them and pray for them. She spoke of the difficulties and struggles of their ministry.
I couldn't resist myself: "So, have you ever heard of the Camel method?"
She hadn't. "Can you describe it to me?"
"It is a method that uses the Qur'an to try to lead people to Jesus."
Her brow furrowed a bit. "Yes. I know about such things. We know somebody at DTS who is constantly pushing something like this. We think it is a bad idea. We spent our first two years trying to build relationships and work indirectly at finding an opportunity to share the gospel. We accomplished nothing. Then we started just presenting the gospel to people openly. They appreciated our honesty, and we saw six people accept Christ in one year. What do South Baptists [her English was pretty good, but she labored a bit at times] think about this 'Camel'?"
"Well, I think it is a bad idea, too," I replied. "And a lot of our missionaries think it is a bad idea. But it receives very favorable promotion from our mission board administration."
"What people don't understand," she said, "is that these people think we have some sort of hidden agenda all along. When we pretend to be something that we're not, then later, when we reveal ourselves, we confirm their initial suspicions and they wonder why they came to trust us. Better to be honest all along and let the power of the gospel do its work."
I couldn't have agreed more.
Before long my Sarah had done everything that an almost-two-year-old can do in the Chick-Fil-A playground, and we found ourselves on the way to Wal-Mart and Sam's.
Every new person is an adventure when you live your life on-mission for Christ. I didn't get to witness to a lost person in Chick-Fil-A yesterday, but I did get to meet a sister in Christ and I do now have the opportunity to pray for her dangerous ministry in another part of the world. And I also got an opportunity to confirm what I knew all along: My opposition to the Camel doesn't have a doggoned thing to do with being an American, with having been called to be something other than a foreign missionary, with being steeped in some kind of SBC subculture, or with not being "broad" enough in my experiences.
It just has to do with knowing a bad idea when I see it.